Drawing Near to God

Dr. Brian Allison

On my family's travels out to the Maritime provinces, I had the opportunity to meet a young Christian man who was very sincere in his faith. At one time, he was diligently seeking the Lord. He shared with me about his personal spiritual struggle. A little while ago, he had a deep desire to know God more, and to experience more of the life of Jesus Christ. He wanted to know more of the presence and power of God; and so he set his heart on seeking Him. He even entered into an agreement with some friends that they would regularly meet in order to seek the Lord. He was very intent on finding the abundant life. Apparently, he faithfully met with this group for a number of months, convening every week. But he felt no different. The experience that he had desired was not realized; and, as a result, he became discouraged. He thus left off seeking. He curtailed his Bible reading, and he neglected prayer. He became cold and casual because God had not made Himself known. God seemed not to care; He seemed to be disinterested.

When I spoke with this young Christian man a few weeks ago, I could sense his desperation; I could sense his disillusionment; and I could sense that he felt incredibly, spiritually hollow. Does that describe you? Has it been the case that you set your heart on seeking the Lord, that you resolved in your spirit to lay hold on Christ, that you purposed in your heart to wrestle through and to lay hold on God's presence and power; and for all your resolve, purposing, and determination, God has remained silent to you? And, as a result, you have become discouraged and disillusioned; and you are presently cold and casual in your Christian walk. Listen, regardless of whether you feel the presence of God, His presence is always evident. Regardless of whether you perceive the manifestation of God, He is always revealing Himself. Regardless of whether you hear the voice of God, He is always speaking; and regardless of whether you think He is listening to you, or even cares, you are always to seek Him, and to call upon His name. God invites us to turn to Him always, and to draw near to Him in order that we may find Him. Hebrews 10:19-22 reads, "Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

Entering the Most Holy place

The first four words of Hebrews 10:22 are breathtaking. I suppose that there are no sweeter words (though there are many as sweet) in the whole of Scripture than these words – "let us draw near." There are no more comforting words, no more healing words, no more empowering words, no more transforming words, than these words – "let us draw near." This is an exhortation; it is an invitation! As I think about these words, I find them both exciting and humbling – "let us draw near." Of course, the exhortation, the invitation, is to draw near to God (see Hb. 7:19). Notice, for instance, verse 19, "Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus." "To enter the holy place" parallels the idea to 'draw near'. The better translation for "the holy place" in verse 19 is the Holy of Holies. In the original Greek, the phrase in Hebrews 10:19 is an abbreviated form of the phrase in 9:3 in which we actually find the language "the Holy of Holies." So, when it talks about having confidence to enter the holy place it is talking about the inner sanctum, the Most Holy place.

Recall that during the Old Testament era, the people of God were not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum. It was too sacred for the people of God. Once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest, the representative of Israel, went into the Most Holy place to sprinkle the mercy seat with blood. Moses had a privilege that few experienced. Moses, the man of God, was allowed to enter the Most Holy place to meet with God. Exodus 25:21,22 reads, "And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. And there [in the Holy of Holies] I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel." Moses found God in the Most Holy place; and He spoke with God face to face.

It is in the Most Holy place that God is to be found. It is in this place that God manifests His presence; and we have this grand exhortation and invitation that we are to enter the Most Holy place and to draw near to God. That is our privilege as the people of God in the age of the Spirit. That is grace, my friends; that is grace abounding. God actually invites us to come to Him, and to behold His glory, and to hear from Him. He does speak in the Most Holy place. I find that incredibly powerful. In Spirit, it is possible to enter the very presence of God. In Spirit, it is possible to speak to God directly.

There may be some who may say something like this, "God, I have sought You; I have cried out to You; I have prayed to You. I have responded to the challenges that I have heard in the Church's teaching to seek You. I have poured out my soul to You. And yet, You seem incredibly unreal; Lord, You feel so distant." If you have not said something like that, maybe you have said something like this, "Lord, You have seen me in my need, in my inner pain, in my struggle. You have even seen the tears, the torment of my mind, the agony of my soul, in trying to draw closer to You; and Lord, I do not hear You. I see no overtures of Your love and care, and I wonder if You are even listening to me. Lord, I wonder if You are even interested in me, or if You are too busy to take note of my struggle and my need." But the Word of God says that believers have access into the Most Holy place, and we are to draw near and speak directly with God. Do you believe that? It is true. It is not only possible for us to draw near, but God also desires that we draw near to Him. These are not the words of a man, they are the very words of God.

Moses pastured the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He came to Mount Horeb, and he beheld a marvel – a burning bush, but the bush was not consumed. Moses curiously began to draw near. But we read that "God called to him from the burning bush,...and said, 'Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground'" (Ex. 3:4b,5). And yet, our holy God says to us today, "Draw near." In gathering for fellowship on a Sunday morning, we are drawing near to God. When we open up the Scriptures to receive light and understanding, we are drawing near to God. When we come to the communion table to remember Christ until He comes, we are drawing near to God. There are different ways by which we may draw near to God. Even in turning inward and engaging in holy reflection and meditation, we are drawing near to God.

Yet, the primary way that we draw near to God, and the implied emphasis of this text in Hebrews 10, is through prayer. So, Hebrews 4:16 reads, "Let us therefore draw near [the same language as Hebrews 10:22] with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need." In drawing near, we draw near to the throne of grace, on which God the Spirit sits, and we speak with Him face to face. As we enter into prayer, we enter into the Most Holy place. God truly meets us in the inner sanctum. Prayer is not a monologue, but a dialogue. God speaks spiritually through illumination and conviction. Drawing near to God entails divine manifestation – receiving answers from God (cf. 1 Sam. 14:36-37).

Confidently entering the Most Holy place

We are to enter the Most Holy place 'confidently'. I would suspect that there may be some reading this message, and are saying to themselves, "I am not worthy to draw near to God. I really don't believe God wants me to draw near. I know my guilt; I feel my sin. I am totally, utterly unworthy to come to Him." The Word of God says to you, my friend, "Come boldly." Do you know why we can come boldly? On what basis or grounds may we come boldly? We have nothing in ourselves to offer. Often, we feel utterly unacceptable. But through the atoning work of Christ, we are able to draw near – "by the blood of Jesus" (v. 19b). Of course, there is no good in you or in me. (One truth that the Lord is pressing more upon my own heart – and blessed be His name – is that I am utterly, totally, completely nothing, in and of myself, before Him. I have nothing of which to commend myself, nothing in which to take pride; and in that nothingness, I discover that Christ is everything). It is Jesus' blood that accomplishes the atonement. It is His blood that covers sin. It is His blood that deals with guilt and shame. It is by His blood that we have redemption. Christ died for our sins, and therefore there is a just grounds for the forgiveness of sins, the pardon of sins, the cleansing of sins, in order that we might enter boldly into the Most Holy place. The blood of Christ renders us acceptable before God. The blood of Christ is our confidence; that is our assurance.

The blood of Christ brings us to God. His death opened up the way to God's presence – "by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh" (v. 20). We have direct access to God by the physical death of Christ. Recall the language of Matthew 27:50,51, in which we have recorded the crucifixion of our Lord, "And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. [And what happened?] And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split." The veil – the prohibitive curtain barring the way into the Most Holy place – was ripped open. This extraordinary historical act was emblematic and significant of Christ opening up the way to God by the 'tearing' of his physical body.

Further, we have confidence to enter the spiritual Most Holy place, not only because of the work of Christ, but also because of the person of Christ – not only because of His atonement, from which we have redemption, which leads to forgiveness, with the outcome being fellowship; but also because of His great high priestly role. And so, we have these two mighty pillars that support our confidence for entering boldly into the Most Holy place – His blood and His priesthood. Thus, we further read in verse 21, "And since we have a great priest over the house of God." Jesus Christ mediates for His people. He represents and intercedes for His people. He not only died for us, but He now lives to pray for us. In dying, He 'rent the veil' and opened the way; and in rising and ascending, He actually led the way. We read that it is a 'new way', as opposed to the Old Testament forms and ritual. It is also a 'living' way, as opposed to the dead letter of the Law. We now come by the Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:18).

Properly entering the Most Holy place

Therefore, on the grounds of the atonement of Christ and the priesthood of Christ, we have the exhortation and invitation in verse 22, "Let us draw near." But we are to draw near to God in a certain manner. We are to draw near, first, "with a sincere heart" (v. 22a). We can translate this phrase as an "honest heart" or a "true heart." There should be no deceit in us, no falsehood, no hypocrisy. We must come with a pure heart. We should not come with ulterior motives. We should not come simply to see what we can get from God. He does not live for us, but we live for Him. We are to come to Him with a genuine desire to see and know Him; and to worship Him and delight in Him. We want Him for who He is and not simply for what He can give to us. Second, we are to draw near to God with "full assurance of faith" (v. 22b). We must come believing with conviction. We must come with a firm trust. We must come with an immovable persuasion. What is the object of this full assurance of faith? We should be convinced that the price for sins has been paid. We should be convinced that the blood of Christ does speak better things than that of Able. We should be convinced that His blood does make atonement, that through the blood we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins. We should be convinced that the blood cleanses us, that the wrath of God has been satisfied, that the demands of the Law have been met. We should be convinced that Christ does mediate for us, that He ever lives to intercede for the children of God. We must come in trust, resting on Him for who He is, and for what He has done. We must come fully persuaded that the Father does accept us in the Beloved. We must come persuaded that the Father wants us to draw near, to behold Him, and to talk with Him face to face.

Practically speaking, how is it possible to even draw near? We know the grounds on which we can draw near, namely, the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ. We know the manner in which we are to draw near, with a sincere heart and with full assurance of faith; but how is it even practically possible to actually draw near, for God is holy? Maybe you are saying, "I have sinned this past week. I have wronged someone this past week. I have spoken out of turn this past week. I have had an evil thought this past week." What practically qualifies us to enter God's presence? It is through God's regenerative work in our person – "having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (v. 22c). This is symbolic language, it is pointing back to the Old Testament cultic forms. It is simply saying that because we have been regenerated (inwardly) in our hearts, which is reflected in our conduct and action (outwardly), we can approach Him. God, through His Spirit, has saved and consecrated us; and thus has qualified us to approach Him. We have hearts that should desire the holy, and we should use our bodies to be instruments of righteousness. On the basis of this regenerative work, Romans 12:1,2 should be our daily spiritual obligation, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [or heart], that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Because we have been regenerated, we can come to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance of faith. If you have not been regenerated, if you have not been born again, you cannot come with a sincere heart, you will not come with a full assurance of faith. You will come with mere lip service (see Isa 29:13,14). You will come with doubt and uncertainty; but if God has indeed touched your heart and made you a new creature in Christ, then old things have passed away, and all things have become new (see 2 Cor. 5:17). God gives the believer a new heart, and thus he or she has a desire for obedience; and that practically qualifies the believer to come into His holy presence. In approaching God in 'the beauty of holiness', we have the guarantee that He will approach us; He will reveal Himself; and so, we read, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded" (Jas. 4:8). Practically, personal holiness invites the divine presence. God longs to draw near to His people. He longs for His people to draw near to Him. The Most Holy place is our spiritual resting place, and shall be our eternal home. As the Psalmist writes, "But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Thy works" (Ps. 73:28).